Council continues budget talks, Rhea returns to dais

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

As the final vote for the City of Liberty Hill budget is pushed back to Sept. 11, and potentially to Sept. 25, Council Member Liz Rundzieher on Monday indicated that she will push for two additional full-time police officer positions.

Police Chief Maverick Campbell had requested the two positions in his budget proposal earlier this month. After a meeting with Mayor Connie Fuller and City Administrator Greg Boatright August 21, that request was reduced to one full-time officer and a clerical position.

Rundzieher proposed adding the second full-time patrol position because Campbell said it would allow them to fill in remaining gaps in the night patrol, which are sometimes staffed by a single officer.

“I wouldn’t want be out there by myself at night,” Rundzieher said. “Sometimes I don’t even want to be alone at my house.”

Boatright pushed back, saying that when the Council last year added additional patrol positions, they were told that it would require eight officers to fill out Campbell’s goal of a 24-hour patrol. He said the Council had been “generous” in their increases to the police budget this summer, and last summer.

The proposed budget for the police department adding one new patrol officer and a clerical position alongside other expenses, stands at $977,630, representing a 33 percent increase from the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 31.

The brief discussion Monday arose out of an agenda item to push back the City’s final budget vote until Sept. 11. No amendments to the proposed budget could be submitted Monday because the meeting’s posted agenda did not include any mention of it. Instead, they will have to be submitted Sept. 11, which Boatright and Council members agreed opened up the possibility that a final vote would take place at the Sept. 25 meeting.

“Hopefully you have a clear picture of where we’re at, and I hope at the (Sept.) 11th meeting we’re able to vote. If there are any kinks, Sandra and I can work on resolving it by the 25th,” Boatright said. “I’ve represented what my thoughts are, and I know a lot of you have concerns about other areas. I feel good about our budget, and really good about where our city is at.”

Ron Rhea returns after 7-month leave
Council Member Ron Rhea made an appearance at Monday’s meeting for the first time since January.

The rest of the Council clapped as Rhea entered shortly before 6:30 p.m., when the meeting was scheduled to begin.

“My wife said she’d had enough of me, so I had to come here,” Rhea said to laughter in the room.

“We’re just glad to have you back,” Mayor Connie Fuller said.

Rhea suffered a massive heart attack in January, followed by other health complications. A planned return was then delayed by a second heart attack in June.

Monday, the Council still had only four votes, as Member Troy Whitehead was absent.

Electrical work funded at Lions Foundation Park
The Council voted to allocate $11,100 toward repairs of the electrical system at Lions Foundation Park.

The funding comes from the Economic Development Corporation, as that board voted August 17 to recommend the repairs.

After an initial bid for $87,000 dramatically exceeded the $15,000 cost estimate that EDC Director Rick Hall had supplied in recommending the repairs, discussion of approval at last week’s special Council meeting was tabled. Since then two more bids were received closer in line to those original estimates.

EDC Executive Director Lance Dean presented the recommendation again with the explanation that the EDC would be hiring local contractor Pat Harlow for $14,000.

The Council voiced an audible murmuring in approval when Dean said Harlow’s name.

“We’ve got a good contractor here,” Boatright said.

In a related discussion later, he said, “We’ve got to take care of all of our parks, and hopefully one day the City will own Foundation Park.”

Lions Foundation Park is owned by the Liberty Hill Development Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

The Foundation will pay the $2,900 difference between Harlow’s bid and the EDC’s funding.

Master Drainage Plan approved to continue
Council voted 3-1 to approve funding for the second phase of the City’s Drainage Master Plan at $72,260.
The dissenting vote was cast by Council Member Jon Branigan, who began to speak, but then said simply, “I’m against it.”

Mayor Fuller gave a short speech after the vote that the Drainage Master Plan was like the other master plans being pursued by the City.

“This gives us something to work with over a number of years. If we don’t coordinate, like we’ve been doing, it’s like we’re throwing money randomly at projects,” she said. “Anything we do now is laying the groundwork for the city’s development in the future.”

Chad Cormack from K. Friese & Associates briefed the Council on the firm’s first phase, and outlined what would be completed in the second.

The Drainage Master Plan is intended to assess the current state of flooding problems in the city, and to identify solutions and their associated funding sources.

17 drainage problem areas were identified in the first phase, gathered by input from sources such as City Planner Sally McFeron, FEMA floodplain maps, and 60 public survey responses.

In addition to making this information available, Cormack said they would be developing solution options to these.

Eight regions will be identified where detention centers would be feasible and effective to mitigate flooding.

Cormack said possible funding, which will be another exploration of the project’s second phase, could come from a drainage fee assessed on water customers.

“The most important thing in a plan is to wrap your head around the costs for drainage,” Cormack said. “A drainage fee is a tax, and no one likes a tax, but if you can get a good cost estimate, people are alright with it.”

Boatright said he thought the fee would prove to be a good idea, and the “only viable one compared to debt issuance.”

Cormack said that the fee could come in a number of forms, such as a tiered fee dependent on whether the property was residential, commercial, or industrial. The amount of impervious cover in a property could also determine it.

He estimated “in the ballpark range” that Kyle, which uses the fee, charges $2-4 per month to residents.

The second phase is estimated to take six months, according to the proposal included in the agenda packet. A third phase is set to follow it.

In other business this week:
• $800,000 was approved to go toward improvements to Liberty Hill’s Lift Station #1. The addition of another pump, and a potential replacement of the two already there since it was built 12 years ago, will double the station’s capacity for wastewater, according to city consultant Perry Steger. He also said the infrastructure would last another 12-15 years. Boatright said the station is the city’s most important.
• The Parks & Recreation Board was approved to spend $5,000 to sponsor the 2017 Christmas Festival, which is Dec. 9 and includes a lighted parade and Trail of Lights.
• A Texas Girl’s Guns was granted an exception to the city’s ordinance against the discharge of firearms within city limits. The ordinance in question allows for shooting galleries and gunsmiths to receive special approval from Council. The gun store offers a basic gun safety course, for which students will now be able to fire a low-powered BB gun into a cardboard target. Store owners Judith and Dennis Baker attended the meeting and told the Council that the BB guns were weak and unlikely to hurt anyone.
• Public hearings continued for the city’s proposed property tax rate of $0.50, its proposed budget, and the annexation of a half-mile stretch of County Road 263.
• A final plat with 101 new residential lots was approved for section 6 of Stonewall. A final plat for Phase 1 of Highland Oaks was also approved, and includes 52 residential lots.
• The site plan for an office complex at the site of the former recycling plant on Highway 29 was approved. The site plan details the first building in a planned four-phase development called Iron B Crossing.

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